When we read about Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails, which pretty much prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, our first thought was, "Jeff Sessions has to be tied to this somehow." And now, it looks like he is.
House Democrats have written a letter to Sessions, seeking details about a Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement in a money-laundering case involving a real-estate concern represented by . . . Natalia Veselnitskaya, the same lawyer who met with Trump Jr. in June 2016.
On top of that, the DOJ has released a portion of Sessions' background-check questionnaire, where he did not report meetings with a Russian ambassador or any other foreign nationals. In short, the nation's top law-enforcement officer is shown lying on his security-clearance form. Ouch! Can it get any worse for Sessions, who once held an uber safe U.S. Senate seat from Alabama?
In the money-laundering settlement, the DOJ cut Russian interests a stunningly sweet deal, and House Democrats want to know why. From a report at New York Daily News:
House Judiciary Committee Democrats are questioning why the Trump Justice Department decided to settle a money laundering case on the cheap with a Russian real estate concern repped by the same Russian lawyer who met with his son in June 2016.
House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers and other Dems wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking whether lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had a hand in settlement talks between Russian real estate firm Prevezon Holdings Ltd. and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Prevezon agreed in May to pay a $6 million penalty in order to avoid a trial for allegedly laundering money from a $230 million tax fraud.
The Dems’ letter said “the department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.”
What might those "underlying facts" have revealed? Here is a take from Mother Jones, with the headline "Democrats Want to Know If Trump Quashed a Russian Money Laundering Case In Return for Dirt on Hillary Clinton." The headline alone suggests a quid pro quo of international scope, not to mention blatant violations of U.S. election laws. Here's more:
In this case, Don Jr. initially said that he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya because she wanted to discuss Russian adoptions. But the law banning Americans from adopting Russian babies is a nothingburger, a minor bit of Putin score-settling enacted in retaliation for Congress passing the Magnitsky Act. When you hear “Russian adoptions,” Magnitsky is the real topic of conversation.
The Magnitsky Act is a set of sanctions designed to punish Russia for arresting and killing Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who had uncovered a state-sanctioned scheme of tax cheating that implicated police, the judiciary, tax officials, bankers, and the Russian mafia. Over $200 million was involved, much of it laundered through overseas companies, including several who used the money to buy up high-end Manhattan real estate. One of these companies was Prevezon.
Natalia Veselnitskaya was one of Prevezon’s lawyers. Preet Bharara was the US Attorney prosecuting the case, which was not going well for Prevezon. However, Donald Trump fired Bharara in March, and two months later the Justice Department surprised everyone by abruptly settling the case for $6 million. The settlement was so meager that one of Prevezon’s US attorneys said it was “almost an admission that they shouldn’t have brought the case.” Veselnitskaya herself crowed that it was “almost an apology from the government.”
So: was there a deal made last year? Did Trump campaign aides—or Trump himself—agree to scuttle the case against Prevezon in return for dirt on Hillary Clinton?
How sweet was the deal for Russian interests? This is from a Prevezon press release, issued after the settlement. You can almost hear company executives, and their lawyers, strutting:
From the outset, Prevezon and its owner Denis Katsyv have maintained their innocence and have repeatedly stated that they had no involvement in or knowledge of any fraudulent activities and never received any funds from any criminal activity.
The U.S. Government brought this case without conducting any independent investigation, relying exclusively on the claims of William Browder, a convicted tax evader who CBS News reported in 2012 renounced his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Prevezon agreed to settle the lawsuit without admitting any guilt for less than three percent of the amount initially sought by the U.S. Government to avoid the exorbitant costs of additional litigation. Importantly, the U.S. Government has agreed that Prevezon's payment does not constitute a forfeiture or penalty long sought by the Government.
Prevezon got off by paying less than three percent of the amount initially sought by the feds? Gee, that's some "tough love." Did Jeff Sessions roll over like a shih tzu and let the Russians scratch his belly? If so, was it all tied to Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails, a meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Trump campaign efforts to get "dirt" on Hillary Clinton? And did Donald Trump, the president, know all about it?
As for documents revealing Sessions' false statements on security-clearance forms, this is from a report at Politico:
The Justice Department released a portion of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' background check questionnaire Thursday, confirming that he did not report meetings with the Russian ambassador or any other foreign nationals when he was being vetted for a security clearance earlier this year.
Sessions' aides confirmed in May that he had not listed two meetings with the Russians or hundreds of other meetings with foreign officials, but a liberal watchdog group filed a lawsuit for a copy of the relevant question and answer from Sessions' questionnaire, known as Standard Form 86 or more commonly, an SF-86. . . .
Sessions' aides say an assistant helping him complete the form was told by the FBI that he did not have to list meetings held in his official capacity as a U.S. senator. Sessions says he was acting as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee when he had the meetings.
The FBI has not commented on whether Sessions completed the form accurately or whether an FBI employee in fact said such meetings were exempt from the reporting requirement.
American Oversight, the watchdog group, is still digging, and its efforts raise anew questions about whether Sessions is fit to serve as AG. Reports Politico:
American Oversight is also seeking any notes the FBI has about how it learned of Sessions' meetings with the Russians and any inquiry the agency made into those contacts. No such information was turned over Thursday.
While special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the American Oversight request and suit did not prompt the FBI to assert the FOIA exemption most commonly used to withhold materials related to pending investigations.
“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to lie to the FBI on an issue of national security," Austin Evers of American Oversight said in a statement. "It’s one thing to know that the Attorney General lied on his security clearance form, but it’s another to see a potential felony in black and white."
"Mr. Sessions has advised federal prosecutors across the country to charge defendants with the most serious crimes, carrying the toughest penalties. Special Counsel Robert Mueller should take him at his word," Evers added. "Making false statements in a security clearance application can be a felony, and American Oversight is deeply concerned that Trump administration political appointees may be interfering in the FOIA process to protect the Attorney General from the release of potentially incriminating information."